This flag nonsense from my point of view

I’ve said this privately, but figure it is time to state so publicly.  I don’t like the Confederate battle flag.  It is something that I grew to dislike in my formative years.  Notice that I did not say that I hate it.  But just that I don’t like it.  I also don’t like broccoli.  Nor do I like smoked salmon.  That said, I do not allow my dislike for those food stuffs or the decor of someone’s car govern my choices in life.

Generally, I only get my back up over issues with respect to this flag:

I’ve carried that flag (either on a staff in my hands or on my shoulder as part of my uniform) into some difficult situations.  I know first hand of blood, sweat, and tears that go into that flag.  So I am, by nature, rather protective of that flag.  It is my flag.  And, if you are reading this from the United States (and not to slight those reading this blog from outside the country… but this is after all an American Civil War history-themed blog), it is your flag.  It is representative of us all.

But since the topic of the day and week is this flag:

Allow me to explain to you where I stand.  And yes… there it is… if it offends you then please read on so you might be properly informed when composing your response.  I don’t see much use for it as any expression of heritage.  It is history.  It is part of the history of the nation that I live in.  But it is not OUR … as in my nation’s … heritage in the modern sense.  I will say proudly that I was among the first to say… more years ago than I can count… that it belongs in a museum.  That’s my opinion.

Now that is not to say I am bias against the Confederacy or in some way trying to cleanse that aspect of our history.  It is just that over the years I’ve noticed that the majority of places the Confederate Battle Flag is displayed, the message is one that pushes more of the “heritage” and not so much of the “history.”  I’ll study the history of the Civil War, to include the Confederacy, with zeal.  I’ll honor my Confederate and Federal ancestors by telling their stories, and the story of their times, without trying to impose a “heritage” upon them.

The pivotal time in my approach to the CBF was in the early 1990s.  At the time I was an Army officer stationed in Georgia.  And at that time, there was much public debate over this particular version of the state flag:

With the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 around the corner, there were many calling for the emblem on the right side of the flag to be removed.  I generally stayed away from the public discussion of that subject.  I was only “sort of” a Georgia citizen at the time, being active duty military in the state.  And to that point, as a uniformed service member, I didn’t feel my place was telling the civilians how to run things.  Such would be frowned upon in professional circles.

But privately I was drawn into discussions.  Being an avid and active Civil War historian, I had plenty of friends, acquaintances, and contacts who wanted to discuss the flag matter.  So on a few occasions… more than a few actually… we discussed this flag.  And most often that was with a fellow researcher whom I’ll simply call “Tom.”  Tom lived in the Atlanta area and was very knowledgeable in the area’s Civil War history.  And much of that connection was personal, as Tom could claim several ancestors who fought in the war.  All Confederate of course (I used to tease him of finding his “long lost Federal ancestor” some day. To which he always countered, “I’d have to disown myself!”)

On one occasion, having heard Tom’s arguments for “heritage” and the underpinning need to retain some connection with the past by way of the state flag, I “aired out” my view.  And I’ll summarize here.   You see, that Georgia state flag seen above was adopted in 1956.  If you have even a moderate understanding of American history, you know that was a troubled time in Georgia and the south in general.  So the redesign of the flag incorporated some of that trouble.

Georgia’s flag has some ambiguous origins.  The online Georgia Encyclopedia has the “short version” of this.  As at the time Tom and I were well acquainted with what flags were carried around in 1860, my response to him started there.  And using today’s resources, I can make a visual argument here and save a lot of typing about various components of these flags.

There was no “official” state flag, per-say, in 1860.  In 1861, when the state was equipping regiments and sending them off to war, these units were issued, though not uniformly, flags that incorporated the state’s seal.  I’ll go again to Wikipedia for a basic, general example:

Not very flashy. But I personally think we should save the flashy flags for car dealerships running Sunday specials.

That design was unofficially sufficient for most needs until 1879.  In that year, legislation established this pattern for flags issued to the state militia:

Ok… still not flashy, but somewhat bland.  Nothing to get excited about if you are a Georgian, wouldn’t you say?  So over the years the state seal found its way into the blue field on the left, in several forms.  By mid-20th century, this was the layout:

My argument to Tom, at that point, was if the state’s pledge called for “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation” then wasn’t the circa 1950 flag a bit more “moderate” far more “wise” and indeed more indicative of “justice” than the one adopted in 1956?

More to the point, if we were going to talk about “history” and how that should manifest as part of “heritage” then which is the better option – a basic design from 1879 or a redesign made in 1956?  I say, the “heritage” should follow the “history” in instances such as this.  There shouldn’t have been the Confederate symbology in the flag.

Tom conceded points, but countered that the flag should be “evolving” and allow for incorporation of more recent history.  My counter to that was the flag shouldn’t end up as a wall where “stickers” are posted.  My example at the time was a silly notion of adding Vidalia onions and Alan Jackson’s stetson… as both were popular in those days.  Years after the fact, I was somewhat vindicated by the reaction to the “compromise” flag of 2001:

That lasted but two years until the second compromise flag was approved:

Personally, I don’t like this compromise either.  In its elements, the current flag incorporated, by design, components of the First National Confederate flag.  I, being a purist in terms of history and heritage, would prefer the 1879 flag in its modified (with state seal) form.  But I don’t live in Georgia.  So my voice doesn’t matter much there.

But I’m getting ahead of my discussion with Tom as it stood in 1994.  At that time he and I agreed to disagree.  Us being good gentlemen,we respected that agreement.  That being (unlike some bloggers who I could name here) a convention in which we did not open the subject, even by proxy, so as neither would have to revisit the discussion.  We proceeded to collaborate for several more years.  Unfortunately, with my overseas service and moves since leaving the Army, we’ve fallen out of touch.  I do wish, today, that I could contact Tom and hear his opinions.

One thing that stands out from our discussion of the flags is Tom’s fear that “some day, people will be cleansing out all references to the Confederacy without regard to history.”  For many years, I would have responded that no Taliban-like movement was ever going to start tearing down monuments.  And please understand Tom’s word choice here and MY word choice here.  History and heritage are two separate things.  There is overlap, to be sure, but we should not merge the two arbitrarily in conversation.

Heritage can be misdirected … wrong… hateful….  But at the same time, if properly nurtured and cultivated, heritage can be a source of strength, pride, and fulfillment.  Heritage can point us to a place where that “Tolerance, Wisdom, and Justice,” spoken of in the state oath of allegiance, are achieved.

To nurture and cultivate heritage, we must turn to the history.  History is what was.  Good… bad … or other.  Regardless of good, bad, or other.  And history is far too complicated for us pretend can be summarized with a simple public-facing symbol as a flag.  If one finds history “offensive” then the problem is not with the history, but in the person’s understanding of the history.  And, in saying that… didn’t I say history is complicated?  One hundred and forty characters won’t do.  In most cases, a blog post of 1500 words won’t do.  Often, a scholarly work of 500 pages still won’t suffice.  Indeed, for our small capacity brains to really grasp the magnitude of the entirety of human experience… which we call history… we must not only “crowd source” the task with those around us, but also lean on the study left behind by past generations.  It’s called “have a discussion.”  Not the one-sided, shrill, suck-all-the-air-out type we are having these days.  A real, proper discussion.

We need to let history be complicated.  We need to devote the time to studying that history with, and for, its complications.  Only from there can we hold a heritage that is directed, correct, and inclusive of all.

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part IX: Ruins, Tents, Sheds, Sandbags, and the Flag

Let’s step a little further into Fort Johnson for our next stop, as we virtually walk around the site.  The next photo, which I’ve labeled FJ7 for tracking purposes, is this view looking across the interior:


I’ve plotted the location from which this photo was taken on the diagram below, keyed to FJ7:


As mentioned in the earlier post, we can narrow down the perspective of this photo by referring to objects in view, and comparing those objects to the perspective of other photos.  For me the “pin” is the pyramid of bolts with the markings “A C” on the top three:


In fact, we can see both of the bolt pyramids, flanking the entrance to the Brooke Rifle’s position, seen in FJ6:


To the left of the pyramids, is a common-place tent.  One of thousands used during the Civil War.  Nothing in particular to make it particularly noteworthy.


But notice all the extra support for this tent.  The railing around the sides of the tent serve as a second anchor. There’s a platform under the tent to elevate off the sand and provide dwellers some sort of proper floor.   Sort of reminds me of the tents setup by the Federals on Morris Island, in particular those inside former Battery Wagner… yes these:


I’d say it is likely the tent in Fort Johnson was setup by the Federals.  Perhaps the same Federals – the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery – who maintained the tent seen over on Morris Island.  But under the rule of “form follows function” I’d submit the Confederates owning similar tents and with similar requirements, would have used the same arrangements… had there been such a need.

We will see this tent again in FJ9… we are not done with the minutia of tenting arrangements.

I doubt the photographer was worried about the tent when composing this photo.  What appears in the foreground seems to be the main subject:


That is the crumbling bricks of a chimney and some wood walls.  The bricks appear to be just plain old bricks.  Nothing of great interest….


But then again, this is “To the Sound of the Guns” and not “Bricks of the Civil War.”  So I encourage masonry experts from the internet to enlighten us as to any peculiarities worthy of study.  I would just point out that this chimney matches with the annotation “ruins of old fort” in the survey diagram.

The wood structures extending from the ruins are more interesting to me:


Because these appear in a couple of photos, specifically FJ8 which I’ll walk through next, we have somewhat a three-dimensional appreciation of these.  Because these are rough hewn, I don’t think these were parts of the buildings that stood at Fort Johnson before the war.  These have the appearance of storage points, defined by low walls.

In the distance beyond these ruins, we see what appears to be a crib.


There is a doorway defined on the left.  Logs were laid without any filler between.  I’d submit this was also some sort of defined storage space instead of quarters.  Otherwise we’d see some effort to seal off the walls and vestiges of overhead cover.

Behind the crib is the entrance to the 10-inch Columbiad Rifle’s position.

And to the right is another chimney.  These chimneys take me back to the 1861 observations from Fort Sumter:


18th century buildings invariably had chimneys.  And we see a lot of buildings in view.

To the right of the chimney is a clear view of the slope on the angle of Fort Johnson which faced Fort Sumter directly.


In contrast to the other sections of the fort, this slope is deteriorating.  I don’t think that is simply a couple months of neglect.  Looks more as a longer term issue left behind by the previous tenants… the Confederates.  So to me the “story” in that crop is the labor shortage long reported by the Confederate engineers.  That would be the lack of soldiers detailed to do the work, as well as the lack of impressed, requisitioned labor in the form of slaves and free blacks.  A shortage I documented in numerous posts during the sesquicentennial.

To the right of that is another group of chimneys with a building right in the middle:


I’m inclined to call this a shop or shed of some sort.  There’s a lot of “stuff” laying around the building.  None of which is in focus well enough to give much detail.  Sad, because there were probably some interesting items for discussion laying about there.  Instead, we just have the clapboard building with a tarp over the roof.

Look above the building and we see the United States flag proudly waiving in the breeze coming off the ocean:


This allows us to locate the flagstaff, or at least the flagstaff in use by the Federals in the spring of 1865, at Fort Johnson.  Given the perspective of FJ7 and FJ5 of the fort’s exterior


The lines match up to place the flagstaff on the forward wall of Fort Johnson facing Morris Island.  And the photographer was keen to include the United States flag over these recently captured Confederate works.

As is my habit, let me turn to the extreme foreground in closing this “stop” of the tour:


Not grass, but a lot of bricks and broken sandbags.  I cannot help but think of the thousands of sandbags used around Charleston, by both sides, during the four long years of conflict.

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part VIII: Over a hundred 90-pound bolts to deal with Federal monitors

In the last installment in the walk around Fort Johnson, I offered up this diagram indicating the perspective of several photos of the interior of the fort:


Let me pick up this tour by stopping at point labeled FJ6 on that diagram.  That is where the photographer setup his equipment for this photo:


We are looking into the gallery where a 7-inch Double-Banded Brooke Rifle sits.  This is the same weapon appearing in photo FJ2 on the exterior of the fort.  What I like most about this view is that the line of sight is parallel to the profile line used by the surveyor’s diagram of the fort’s profile:


“Section 2″ in the diagram above was along a line drawn through the right-most gun position.  The FJ6 photo looks down the position to the left of that line.  And keep in mind that “Section 1″ runs perpendicular to the line of Section 2 and thus the line of sight in photo FJ6.  Sure, you say, what is there to be excited about?  Well this allows us to visually confirm… or reject … some of the particulars of the survey.  So let us pay attention the those profiles…


What catches my eye is the slope of the “V” that forms the gallery here.  The survey, since it used crisp lines, indicates the works had a “V” with a crown on each arm.  Almost a “V” within a “V.”  What we see in the photo is an eroded version of that.  A crown exists, but the slope is more of a gradual curve down to the base of the “V” and not offering a distinct shelf or shoulder where the crown meets the base.  Surveyors’ “license” perhaps?  No.  I think the surveyors accurately depicted what they saw.  But theirs were trained eyes, experienced by four years work with earthworks in the field, to know what the profile was designed to be.  And those surveyors were quick to extrapolate from the effects of weather, erosion, and neglect to show how the works were originally built.  After all, the survey was part of a report that needed to demonstrate how formidable these works were, and not intended as a study in shifting of sand.

That all said, let’s look at what would be the “star” of this photo – that big rifle:


Notice the cuts into the carriage, on both cheeks.  Also notice the quoin for elevating the gun.  This gun is pointed to the waters between Forts Sumter and Moultrie.

Looking down at the table supporting the gun, there are tick marks along the edges.


The tick marks below the race appear distinctly in the “sunny side.” But faintly along the edge of the race where the sun is directly on the wood.  However, under the shadow of the carriage, the opposite is true.  So as we consider where the gun was pointed, we have some indication as to how the gun crew ensured the weapon was on target.  The Confederates did conduct practice fires, which we call “registering” today, against targets in the harbor.  And of course they had feedback from the many counter-bombardments of Federal targets on Morris Island. So you might say those tick marks were “earned” along the way.

I would be remiss without calling out the barrel, which serves as a convenient mark to associate several photos.  We can also examine the texture of the fort’s walls.


Moving back a bit from the gallery, let me look through from left to right.  On the far left is the end of a railing.  What we will see from some of the other photos is that this rail served as an anchor for ropes extending from a tent.


To the left of that rail is a wash basin.  It’s a metal basin, perhaps tin, as we can see the metal seam up the side.


But since this is “To the Sound of the Guns” and not the “Civil War Field Hygiene” blog, we are going to look past that wash station at the pyramid of Brooke bolts:


These bolts have a square headed nut for the bolt attaching the sabot to the body.  We’ll see from another view there is a space between the sabot and the body.  There are two bourrelets (the band around the projectile used to align it to the bore), with one at the base and another towards the front.

One of the bolts in the stack is missing its sabot:


I’m not as good with projectiles as I am with cannons.  But I think these are “Tennessee” bolts, known to collectors as “Type II.” There are four holes in the base of the bolt.  One of those is filled by the bolt used to retain the sabot.  The other three, spaced around the middle of the base, are indentations that matched up with lugs on the inside face of the sabot.  The way this worked – when the Brooke was fired, the expanding gasses would push against the copper sabot and thus force the concave outer face to seal against the bore and into the rifling grooves of the bore.  That also forced the three lugs on the inside face of the sabot into the three holes on the base of the bolt.  With the copper sabot pressing into both the rifle grooves and into the holes, the spin of the rifling was imparted to the projectile.  And we can see all the parts for that system, save the rifling of the bore, in this photo.

Projectiles of 7-inch caliber were produced in Charleston and also brought in from other sources.  The bolts were used from both the 7-inch Brooke and rifled 42-pdr guns.  These were intended to counter Federal monitors.  Though, with their mass, the bolts would have crashed through any wooden vessel with ease.  We see fifty-six of these stacked to one side (two pyramids of bolts, stacked nose to nose).  To the other side of the gallery, there is another pyramid of bolts, these stacked tail to tail:


Here we see the flat faces of the bolts.  Not designed for aerodynamic efficiency, these flat faces were meant to impart the most force upon iron plate.  These projectiles didn’t pierce, rather were designed to shatter or bend the plate.  Purely a mass times velocity equation.  Each weighed just over 90 pounds.  And we are seeing over 100 of these bolts.  A lot of mass that would have been thrown at any Federal monitors trying to force passage into Charleston.

The top three projectiles have markings:


“A C” … which I am at a loss to explain.  But those top three bolts, with markings, appear in another photo.  So they are good placemarks as we “tour” the fort.

As we “walk” to the next point along our “tour,” we’d have to step over some weeds growing up in the fort:


A reminder that this photo was taken in the spring of 1865.  Weeds and grass were taking hold over the fortifications of a war in the closing stages.